NEWBERRY — Hope was lit Friday evening for drunk driving victims everywhere.
The Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) of Newberry County hosted their 25th anniversary at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Newberry to remember those who lives were taken away by drunk drivers.
Newberry M.A.D.D.’s Margaret Brackett said that the organization overall has helped save more than 300,000 lives while services have been provided to more than 200,000 victims.
“One thousand drivers in Newberry and South Carolina display the M.A.D.D. ribbon so that the public will not tolerate drunk driving,” said Brackett, “The ribbon shows a commitment and reminder to not drink and drive. Tie a red ribbon on for safety.”
St. Luke’s pastor Elizabeth Morgan thanked everyone who helped to lead and participate in this service.
“We’ve hosted this for many years. I’ve been here for six of those years. We support and applaud what they (M.A.D.D.) do. As we celebrate the holidays, let us especially remember as we observe and are responsible for our actions,” said Morgan.
Morgan and Brackett were not the only ones to pay respect.
Sen. Ronnie Cromer and District 40 Rep. Walt McLeod paid their tributes. Both representatives are M.A.D.D. members. McLeod also spoke about what measures have been taken and are being taken to help end drunk driving.
McLeod mentioned the reckless driving homicide law which was passed this year, the ignition lock law which he hopes will be reconsidered again and he urged M.A.D.D. volunteers to lessen burdens on law enforcement officers by enforcing stricter rules and regulations in regards to alcohol.
The reckless driving homicide law which was passed is summed up by McLeod who says, “if someone is the cause of an accident in which someone loses a life, a sobriety test can be called and a probable cause to take a breathalyzer test. If they don’t pass, there is a chance to prosecute the person for a significant crime.”
As for the ignition lock law, McLeod hopes that it will be brought forth again so that it may be passed.
McLeod also said, “When you buy a cold beer at the convenience store, it’s an invitation to drink and drive” in talking about lessening burdens on law enforcement officers.
While McLeod spoke about what M.A.D.D. has done and is doing and also what legislatures are trying to do in Columbia, Rev. Eric Fink performed the candlelight vigil in which people remembered those whose lives were lost in drunk driving accidents.
“May the light continue to shine through law enforcement, representatives, council members and each of you,” said Fink.
“Each candle represents a light of hope. Let their light continue to shine,” Fink continued, “We dedicate ourselves to be your silent warriors. We continue to be lights in this world.”
One person who spoke upon the tragedy of drunk driving was Ann Sanders who lost her son, Marines Capt. Brad Sanders, a decade ago to a drunk driver.
Brad Sanders was a Mid-Carolina graduate as well as University of South Carolina and had just finished an overseas deployment.
“The man, Jessie Lee Bennett who rammed the truck he was driving into Brad’s vehicle had been drinking at a golf tournament that afternoon and had just left a bar in the downtown area of Beaufort before the accident. In the investigation, patrons at the bar said he had some of his friends purchasing drinks for him because the bar tender had refused to serve him any more drinks. It came out in the investigation that he and his friends were on their way to purchase drugs after he left the bar that night. This man had two previous DUI’s, driving under suspension for second time, and the list goes on and on. He had actually served a little time in prison,” said Sanders.
Sanders also said that Bennett had children.
Bennett served five years for the death of Sanders’ son who went on to say that she and her husband received a letter stating when he would be getting out.
“A few weeks later we received another letter letting us know that the first night he was out of prison he had been caught in a bar by one of the parole agents. This was the same bar he had been in the night he hit Brad. He also tested positive for drugs,” said Sanders.
After Sanders and her husband attended a hearing a week later, Bennett was sent to prison for another year.
“Parents never think of losing their children,” said Sanders, “We live with that question of why. For me there is never a satisfactory answer. I haven’t forgotten that there are two families who are suffering.”
“His family did not deserve the shame he brought upon them. I can’t understand what a father of five children would be doing out drinking at 11:30 at night instead of home with his family,” she continued.
“I will never get over Brad’s death. No matter how bad life goes on, you have to have faith that God will get you through,” she concluded.